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Concert Review: Spoon, The Walkmen, White Rabbits at Sonar, Baltimore, 4/11/08

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I was very excited to see Spoon. Their Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga album is one of my favorite albums of last year. Unfortunately, the night started inauspiciously. I was supposed to go to the concert with my friend, but she waited too long to buy her ticket and the show was sold out. So, I had to go by myself. I arrived early enough to get a good spot in line, right behind about twenty people all smoking at once. While in line, someone from the Monster Energy drink team was handing out samples. I tried the Mixxd drink, which is quite possibly the worst thing I have ever tasted. Still after the doors opened at 8:00, I was able to get a good spot, right up front in the center.

White Rabbits opened but did not start playing until 9:00. I have listened through their album a few times, to me they sound like yet another post-punk revival act with not too much special about them. Still, a few of their songs made me think they had great potential as a live band.

Technical difficulties marred the band's entire set, and indeed all the bands'. For White Rabbits, the lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist could not hear himself in the monitors and was distracted the whole set. The keyboard player and other co-lead vocalist tried to bring the band's energy to make up for it. On the first two songs the band was disharmonious a bit, but on the third song, they really came together. They stayed tight throughout the rest of the set and brought the energy, despite the lead guitarist's continuing problems. They closed with a visceral, dissonant, sped up version of "Kid on My Shoulder". That track opens their Fort Nightly album, and I always thought it lacked a certain punch on record, but live it certainly did not. The wall of sound they delivered blew me away.

White Rabbits had only played for forty-five minutes and were done. Surprisingly no one moved from their spots, to go get a beer, go to the bathroom, or buy some merchandise. Well, at least not in my little cluster. These kids were determined to keep their choice spot. The Walkmen did not start playing until a little before 10:00.

I was not fan of the Walkmen before going into the show; I thought they were one of the blander bands to come out of the garage rock revival of a few years ago. They won me over by their third song. The singer, Hamilton Leithauser, really gave it his all, putting everything into the songs. He held the mic and moved around like a punk rock singer, very unafraid of what he looked like on stage.

The drummer was another sparkplug of energy. He was like a wind-up monkey drummer with the vigor and speed he attacked the drums. The rest of the band did not seem as into it. The bassist and keyboardist kept switching for some inexplicable reason and neither ever seemed happy to play keyboards. It may have been because the keyboards were very low in the mix, and the vocals were so low they were sometimes lost altogether. Despite this, after the first few songs, I found myself tapping my toes and thoroughly enjoying the rest of the set.

After the Walkmen's set, still no one was moving, but I had to get out of the center to stretch a bit and get a beer. After purchasing my beverage, I tried to finagle myself back in as close as could. I could not back to the center but at least I was still in close proximity to the stage. By this time, I had a ringing in my ears so severe that it dampened what was to come a little bit.

It was a few minutes after 11:00 before Spoon finally came on stage. They started out their set with three-piece horn section joining them for "Chicago at Night" and "Rhythm Soul". The addition of the horns was very cool.

However, Spoon was also plagued by technical difficulties. The feedback from their monitors was so loud that it sounded like the band's entire sound was being played through a distortion pedal. The vocals were so distorted to my ear that Britt Daniel, the lead singer, sounded like a robot chipmunk. I do not know how much of the problem was the feedback, the ringing in my ears, or the array of effects pedals Spoon had set up. I suspect it was combination of all three.

Still, the band was tight and did not seem to miss a step because of the problems. After the first two songs, they dismissed the horn section and went into some older stuff. Having exclusively listened to their newer albums I always considered them a power-pop indie rock band. I had no idea they could be so rocking.

It was not just all straight ahead rock. Some beeps and blips were added to "Don't You Evah". "Ghost of You Lingers" is one of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's more experimental songs, it features white noise and echo vocals. When Spoon performed it, the feedback was so loud it turned into a sheet of static. They trekked through it though, not missing any discernible notes.

The latter half of the show was mainly songs from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which is what I was waiting for. The crowd was enjoying it. A few people would try to sing along and clap ever so often but it never caught on as whole. Still, the rhythm of the music was undeniable and everyone was swaying to the music. The horn section returned for the last few songs, which was a nice idea. Unfortunately, they were barely audible underneath all the feedback. They closed with "The Underdog", my favorite Spoon song ever. Hearing it the way it was intended was nice, despite the massive clipping that marred the song.

As Spoon left the stage, I made my way to the back towards the exit. When they came back on for the encore, I made sure to listen for any difference. The feedback was barely noticeable from the back, though the vocals and keyboard were still low in the mix and things still sounded distorted. Spoon kept bringing the energy and having fun, but by now it was 12:15. I stayed for their first three songs of the encore and then left. Sitting in my car, I think I heard them play one or two more songs.

The long waits, cramped space, and massive amount of sound glitches did not deter from my enjoyment of the evening. All three bands soldiered through their problems and delivered a good show. Looking around during the show, the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves, tapping their feet, bobbing their heads, and even occasionally singing along and dancing. The bands all have great stage presence and the ability to put on a great show. I would recommend catching this tour if you are a fan of any one of the bands. I would not recommend going to a show at Sonar. The club has a parking garage above it, which I do not think helps its acoustics.

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About Mark Kalriess

  • http://www.dailysoundtrack.com brandon

    Totally agreed on The Walkmen. I just saw them in Nashville. Great show. Here’s my review.